THEATRE AS A TOOL FOR SOCIAL REORIENTATION: THE EXAMPLE OF GLOBAL RIGHTS AND YARAC VOTERS’ EDUCATION PROJECT IN PLATEAU STATE
Theatre can be defined as a performance for the purpose of entertainment, information, education or communication. The performance can take place either in a building meant for theatrical performances, in the street or market square. “As much as theatre entertains, it also has the capacity to provoke thought or action about significant issues” (Illah, 4). However, Theorists argued that theatre has thrived in the hand of the bourgeois for such a long time. They used it as an instrument of oppression and coercion. This created a class in the society that fostered and aided the oppression of the masses placing theatre in the hands of the privileged few in the society. Be that as it may, dramatists like Arthur Miller began to project the tragic situation of the common man with his work, Tragedy and The Common Man. His theory was further developed by Augusto Boa! who removed theatre from enclosure of conventional stage craft to place it in the hands of the masses. Boat’s treatise is contained in his work, Theatre of the Oppressed. According to Ngugi Wa’ Thiongo, theatre is a weapon and it is the people who should use it. In specific respect to Africa he wrote: “If theatre is going to grow in Africa, it must be fairly based on the lives of the peasants and workers” (6)
Therefore, theatre has evolved over the years to become a communication tool for development. In what is known as Theatre for Development, theatre is part of the process of changing habits, attitudes, values and practices that may be, in some cases no longer relevant. It allows everybody to take part (participation) in an activity (problem) that concerns them (development).
It is in this context therefore, that this study seeks to explore how the theatre is used as a tool for social re-orientation with specific reference to the collaborative work carried out by Youth Adolescent Reflection and Action Centre (YARAC) and Global Rights in central Plateau town of Panyam on voters’ education. Panyam is a community in the central part of Plateau state that is largely indwelled by the Mwaghawul and a Fulani settlement outskirt of the town. The town is a political hub of central Plateau that has illustrious sons and daughters serving in various capacities from the Local Government to the Federal Government. With the various political bigwigs in this community belonging to various political parties, it bred division among the community along the lines of political interests. It also helps the politicians to rig during the election. The Global Rights/YARAC project sought to address the issue of the voters protecting their votes during election.
- 1 OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
The aims of this study are as follows:
- To study the concept of Theatre for Development (TfD) as employed in the re-orientation of the Plateau central people towards proper conduct during elections by Global Rights & YARAC.
- To examine the process of intervention that ensures the success of the project.
- To ascertain the factors identified and issues addressed in the Voters’ education project.
- To examine the factors that guaranteed the success of the project.
PROBLEM OF THE STUDY
As effective as Theatre for Development is, it has been a tool only in the hands of a few Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and University students, probably because they must offer the course as a prerequisite to receiving a degree in Theatre Arts. However, there are issues that confront the use of this medium such as methodology, poor funding, low social consciousness and lack of effective monitoring and evaluation strategy for sustainability of any development achieved. The questions that we should seek the answers to here are firstly, why were the electorates denied their rights at the poll? Secondly, what is the effect of the stolen mandates on the community? And finally, how effective is TfD as development communication tool in Panyam? This work is to examine how the use of Theatre for Development raised the people’s consciousness and empowered them to take action against their political oppressors.
RATIONALE FOR THE STUDY
The practice of theatre as a development communication has contributed to the field of theatre studies as well as being a useful means of raising people’s awareness about issues of concern. What remains to be explored exhaustively might be the extent to which this tool can be deplored in a complex critical situation. YARAC/Global Rights were confronted with this situation in Panyam and it helps to assess the efficacy of TfD in changing people’s behavioural pattern.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
As Theatre for Development gains relevance in Nigeria, more studies are required to document best practices. This work is one of such study that will be added to the scholastic endeavour in the area of Theatre for Development. The documentation of this best practice will contribute to the growing method of Theatre for Development in terms of methodology, processes, and other factors responsible for the success of the project under study. Significant issues affecting the practice of TfD will also be examined to decipher possible solutions that will help practitioners in this field.
Most forms of dramatic presentation over the ages have been in consonance with the ideals of construction expounded by Aristotle in the Poetics until Augusto Boal began to talk about Actor – spectators relationship which is basically about the integration between the two. As TfD employs this method, new lessons are emerging about the relationship between these two groups in the field of drama. More of the lessons learnt during the Global/YARAC projects will further help scholars to glean from the effect, impact and challenges associated with this method of acting. This may perhaps help in developing new theories of acting where amateurs are the cast and crew in communicating to their kinsmen what professionals were hitherto doing. Also, this study will examine the overall goal of the project and how it was achieved through this method. This hopefully will help other Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) employing this strategy to successfully communicate their ideas.
DELIMITATION/SCOPE OF THE STUDY
This study covers Panyam in the central part of Plateau State. The findings are restricted to the concept, context and practice of Theatre for Development in Nigeria. Relevant scholastic materials related to TfD in Nigeria are reviewed. The special focus of this study is Theatre for Development and its relevance to social re-orientation using the example of the voters’ education orientation implemented in Panyam, Plateau State, Nigeria.
LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY
In the process of this study, the researcher encountered some challenges that restricted the outcome of this study. Some of these issues are; (1) Finances- due to the distant of the place of study, more visits to Panyam was not possible due to inadequate finances for transportation, lodging and other logistics. (2) Time- time became a serious factor that limited the findings because almost a generation has passed between the period this project was implemented and the time of this study. This reduced the number of people that could provide superfluous feedback on the project. (3) Upheaval in Plateau state- the persisted crisis on the plateau limited the visits of the researcher to the project community.
The conventional theatre practice which is a form of media is undemocratic as it does not allow for the participation of the audience. According to Boafo Kwame, Communication patterns and processes in African societies are basically synchronic: patterns and processes in which a few people transmit information to the majority of the people who have minimal or no participation in information generation and dissemination. (1)
As conventional theatre serves as a medium of communication, the patterns and processes are often prepared and delivered to an audience that receives it without making any contribution to the product. Overtime, this method of communication has bred a passive audience that are mere consumers. The problem with this form of communication is that, with time, the percipient does not only lose the vision for change but loses the will also. Since communication involves information generation and dissemination, it is imperative that the audience participate actively in the process of what they consume. The outright passivity as earlier prescribed by Aristotle in his Poetics, is to instil fear and pity in the audience which will purge their emotion and make them sober to reflect about their own lives. While this may be good enough for the bourgeois theatre, it has its limitation if the complete channel of communication will be followed. There is need for feedback which the one way conventional theatre cannot offer. It was the need for this type of theatre imported from the West that led to the search for a theatre that serves the people. The aforementioned ‘finished’ theatre is perceived as an instrument of oppression and subjugation. It was this theatre that dominated the African society in the Colonial and Post Colonial era.
With the revolution brought by the work of Augusto Boal, a new form of theatre called ‘forum theatre’ was born. In his work, Theatre of the Oppressed, Boal brought to theatre Paulo Freire’s concept of theory and practice of revolutionary education as contained in his work
Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Augusto Boal provides one of the most logical, coherent and complete critiques of the bourgeois theatre and its revolutionary practice. According to Boal, “what I believe is that we all should transform society and not abide by it, and not respect it completely.” (12)
Theatre for Development was first christened as “Forum Theatre” and for many years experimented in Latin America to help the oppressed air their opinion on issues that affect them. While the bourgeois theatre is the finished, well made theatre, the proletariat (oppressed classes) do not know yet what their world will be like, hence “Forum Theatre”. It is a forum for the people to look into issues that affect them, come to terms with the reality and proffer solution using theatre as an interface. All attempts by theatre practitioners were thereafter geared towards creating theatre for the people which eventually failed. According to Zakes Mda, Creating theatre for the people failed. Practitioners trying to establish a truly African theatre have adopted various myths, legends, rituals and dances to present drama in the context of Western theatre. (9)
The import of this form of theatre is the juxtaposition of traditional materials in Western form to produce a theatre for the people. This is not so much different from the finished theatre Boal was advocating against. The reason for this was not far-fetched as the African scholars after the colonial experience were doing everything possible to create a theatre that is African in nature and represents the aspirations of the people. This continual search led to what is known today as Theatre for Development (TfD). In the opinion of Christopher Kamlongera, It is not a cliche to say indigenous performances in Africa contain within them some functional elements. In most cases this takes the form of a didactic statement. Whist performers might engage in doing spectacular movements and dances, they might also carry with the performances special messages or lessons to some members of their audience. Some work in theatre for development is a direct result of recognising these characteristics in indigenous African performances. (10)
As restated by Kamlongera, it is evident that most theatre practitioners in Africa were seeking for a theatre for the masses though they could not find a better way to achieve this other than emphasising the lessons they want the people to learn into their performances in the community project aimed at providing development for the people.
Doing theatre for the people could not help in providing the theatre of the people. The search therefore was to arrive at a theatre where the audience will not only participate but they are enlightened about their problems and what action to take for solution. Paulo Freire was a Brazilian educator who developed the theory of education that encourages the oppressed to recover their humanity and overcome their condition. However, there is a role the oppressed have to play to have this liberation. It was this work by Freire that Augusto Boal applied to the theatre and documented in his critique as Theatre of the Oppressed. In line with the work of Boal, Ross Kidd, Martin Byram, other adult educators and theatre practitioners like Christopher Kamlongera, Stephen Chifunyise and David Kerr concurred. Mda saw that;
Theatre can provide a method of implementing Paulo Freire’s idea of raising the critical awareness of the disadvantaged people in society so that they will be able to identify their problems as consequences of a particular social order. (10)
The most documented experimentation of the above assertion which developed into what is commonly known as Theatre for Development (TfD) in Africa began with the Laedza Batanani. It was founded in 1974 in the Bakalaka area of northern Botswana by a community leader and two educators. In the words of Kidd and Byram, the initiators of the project assumed that;
a major constraint on development was people’s apathy and indifference; what was needed was a means of ‘sparking’ people’s interest and involvement. This mobilizational, educational and collective action process required a new approach to non-formal education. The organizers rejected the existing approach of merely providing services and information; they felt this reinforced dependence and individualism rather than encouraging self-reliant collective action. (13)
With this assumption, the goal was to find a way of motivating people in development, and hence overcome the problem of indifference to government development efforts in the area. In the implementation of theatre for development, participation was the goal of the theatre and not just a method of theatre. The main goals were genuine community participation, critical awareness and collective action. The end result is conscientization of the participants to the reality of their fate in the development process that obviously excluded them. The process which can be liken to Brecht’s alienation effect helps them understand their predicament in a scenario where they can also offer useful solution within the socio-economic set-up they find themselves.
According to Crow and Etherton, the process of taking theatre to the people began when intellectuals which include dramatists and university students took prepared plays to tour with the people. An example was the Makerere University Travelling Theatre, which toured various rural communities. In most cases, the plays were not suitable as the contents dealt with situations that were not relevant to the people. The stage that followed was when plays were sponsored by international agencies such as Planned Parenthood Federation, UNESCO and governments who were eager to promote their social policies. The themes of the plays around this period include family planning, health education, hygiene, and many others with the sole aim of social changes. At the University of Ibadan, the Theatre Students also toured various communities with plays. It was later that the government of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida introduced the use of theatre into the programmes under the Mass Mobilization for Self Reliance, Social Justice and Economic Recovery (MAMSER). The objective was to “re-orient Nigerians to shun waste and vanity and to shed all pretences of affluence in their lifestyle, to propagate the need to eschew all vices in public life, including corruption, dishonesty, electoral and census malpractices, ethnic and religious bigotry”. (1) Though the stages did not follow chronologically, another stage however, was when emphasis was placed on art rather than social change. Theatre practitioners and intellectuals held workshops with communities where plays were created by community members and performed for entertainment purpose without any political objective or social vision. An example of such group was the Chikwakwa (grassroots) travelling theatre in Zambia. In the fourth stage, villagers were facilitated to make plays about the problems and proffer solutions. The attention was on the people’s participation at this stage in solving the community problems. Development and extension workers served as the actors and performers. They researched into the problems of the target community and devised a play to address the issue(s). This brought interaction between the performers and potential audience before plays were performed.
The audiences also complete some plays as the plots are deliberately left unfinished for the audience to complete them. It was what Boal referred to as the unfinished theatre of the proletariat. The plays were completed through discussions between the facilitators and the community members or by acting out the solutions or both. Folk media which include storytelling, songs, dances, etc were used to finish the plays in most cases.
In the study of Brian Crow and Michael Etherton, in which they focused on the problem of form and ideology, they opined that, Popular theatre is a theatre through which intellectuals try to communicate with the people most disadvantaged in their society, either by presenting plays to them in which problems of society are articulated from the point of view of the people or by getting them to present plays to themselves which increasingly help them to analyse their society. (18) The whole process of Theatre for Development is a process of returning theatre from the minority elites to the original owners- the masses. It is the democratic process of allowing the people determine how they want to have what they need within the context of the social order and confines of the law. Theatre in such case then becomes the tool which no longer serves the oppressors’ or government’s purpose to subdue the people but as a means of liberation to allow people fight for what rightly belongs to them or better still for the people to determine their fate. As stated by Freire the people gain
… a new awareness of selfhood and begin to look critically at the social situation in which they find themselves, often take the initiative in acting to transform the society that has denied them this opportunity of participation. (9)
This argument is supported by Boal who feels that,
…the spectator delegates no power to the characters (or actors) either to act or think in his place. On the contrary he himself assumes the protagonist role, changes-in short, trains himself for real action. In this case, perhaps the theatre is not revolutionary in itself, but it is surely a rehearsal for the revolution (177).
From the above submission, it further reinstates the fact that the masses’ action can be determined by the roles they are given to play in the theatre. The more participation they enjoy therefore, the more expression they gain for the real action that would engender a revolution against the social injustice perpetuated by the ruling class. It is in this regard that in his book on Theatre for Development, Performing Life, Oga Abah submitted that,
This kind of theatre speaks to the people in their own language and idiom, and deals with issues of direct relevance to their own lives. It is a practice which builds the people’s artistic modes of expression (song, dance, etc) into the process of discussion and performances (3).
Hence the importance of theatre as a medium of articulating the problems of the poor and oppressed since the main organs of communication are outside their control and theatre allows for freedom of expression through their artistic means of expression. Therefore, Theatre for Development in this sense is seen as a crossbreed of the Western type of theatre and the traditional performative arts.
For the purpose of this study, the Sociological Method of research is employed. This is because the thesis is about a phenomenon of disenchantment towards electoral process, apolitical attitude, political manoeuvring and all the attendant electoral problems confronted by the people of Panyam before the intervention in the community by the theatre group. According to Sam Ukala, “this methodology involves a high degree of the researcher’s interaction with the society being studied.” (13) The researcher having lived in Plateau state and familiar with the political climate for almost a decade chose to use this methodology. Information was elicited through interview of people including assistant facilitators, community members and observers about the impact of the Theatre for Development project carried out by Youth Adolescent Reflection and Action Centre in conjunction with Global Rights. A special attention is dedicated to enquire the post implementation experience of the people in order to ascertain the effectiveness of the monitoring process, if any was carried out. The crosssectional survey was stratified to cover the men, women, youth and the particular group of Fulani community who were said to be apolitical and never participates in any voting exercise in the community. With notes obtained through observation and having participated in every stage of the implementation of the project, the researcher brings his experience of the project to bear. Ukala posits that, “he would remember much longer important elements and processes of the event. ”(27) He further listed techniques for data collection under this method which include “Observation, participant-observation, interview, live recording on video or audio-tapes.” (13) The following techniques were used by the researcher to collect the data presented herein. (a) Participant Observation: the researcher was part of the team that carried out the preliminary investigation. This was an advantage to him since he had lived on the plateau for many years. He later became an assistant facilitator on the same project. All these imply that he had an indepth knowledge of the process and negotiations that eventually made the project a success. At various times he headed a team facilitating the workshop. (b) Interview: In the course of this work, the researcher interviewed some community people of Panyam, some of the facilitators. These interviews were added to the one conducted prior and during the project to arrive at certain positions in writing this work. Though the researcher had no access to the video recording since it had been lost by the funding NGO, he used materials from the notes taken during the implementation of the project. He explores the success factors of Global Rights/YARAC voters’ education project in a seemingly hopeless situation that revived the interest of a community in politics, uniting them and bringing about a fair electioneering in 2007 in the central Plateau.
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